Over on CUSAReport I wrote the power rankings and I have Tech at 3rd, and NT at 4th in the league. Tech is defensively great, they have size, length and athleticism. Big man Kenneth Lofton has skills around the rim. Check this clip starting at :47
The weakness of their team is the shooting and offensive breakdowns. Make no mistake, however, they can turn it up and score. Anthony Gordon is a monster inside, who can catch and score in traffic. He sets tough screens and both big men are excellent passers. Tech likes to line up in the high Horns set and work there. They either get a screen-roll going for their ball-handlers like Cobe Williams, Amorie Archibald, or Kalob Ledoux, or let the big man pass out (Jokic-style) to those same wings cutting for buckets.
In my view, the offense is well-designed and the struggles mostly come from a lack of shooters. Isaiah Crowford is a baller, a Kawhi-type who can be really good if he continues to develop his game. He has the range and can also bully-ball inside. Tech often uses him as the second big man but he can do wing-type stuff. His handle is not as strong as others, and that is the weakness in his game right now.
Okay What Is This A La Tech Blog, How Do We Win?
Yes, I like Tech a lot but I think NT matches up well. NT has a stingy defense and Tech has some weaknesses offensively. They can only bully-ball so much with diminishing returns. Javion Hamlet is reaching something like peak form — at least for this season. Zach Simmons can handle his own inside, although the combination of Gordon and Lofton will be an issue. Thomas Bell gets a lot of his shots as putbacks, and well, so do the Tech big men (no surprise, as this is the way big men often get rebounds/points)
NT will not bail out Tech with early shots that let them rest up defensively or allow easy buckets the other way. The deliberate offense will make them work.
On the other end, Tech struggles to score at times. Marshall and WKU both took advantage of this to either come back or build a lead. The key is to take full advantage of it. NT’s offense has been flying high recently — the four-game stretch vs UTEP and Rice has not been against really tough competition but even given the quality it was really good stuff.
The advanced numbers say NT should win this — but consider the Mean Green have not faced the top tier of the conference yet. Tech has. They split. Getting a split out of this series is not a bad thing.
Who Will Shine?
The series and season hinge on James Reese‘s ability to stretch the defense. He is shooting .370 from deep but more than that it will be in allowing NT to find him. Reese has been assisted on 96.4% of his made threes. He’s not a guy that will find his own look — in fact NT doesn’t really have dribble-and-chuck kind of guys. Tech is really good at denying the ball, trapping ball-handlers, and making them make poor passes.
If Reese is getting rhythm looks, it means NT is able to generate good passes and we should be fine. Hamlet, and Simmons are the keys as the offense flows through them. Reese, however, has been flying down the court on breaks and getting rim-runs to add to his value as a shooter. The dynamism opens things up for his main value on the court — as well as everyone else. It is no surprise that being versatile on the basketball court is a good thing.
What Will It Mean?
NT is 5-1 in league play and Tech is 7-3. The division breakdown has these two teams in the same West division and this becomes all the more important for seeding in the league tournament.
Beyond that this is a battle of the kenpom top-ranked efficient offense (NT) vs the top ranked efficient defense (LT) and the sixth ranked offense (LT) against the fourth-ranked defense (NT). It never is as simple as that and suffice it to say that both teams can play.
For pure entertainment this should be a good one, with some scuffles, some excitement, and hopefully, a well-played game.